Saint Petersburg, FL
St. Petersburg, Florida, is frequently linked with nearby Tampa and Clearwater. But the state's fourth-largest city, with stunning beaches and first-rate art museums, stands firmly on its own.
St. Petersburg is positioned on a 137.6-square-mile peninsula. To the west are sugar-white beaches fringing the Gulf of Mexico. To the east, the bustling city center overlooks Tampa Bay.
Tourists flock to the Sunshine City, so named because it averages 360 sunny days each year. To that sublime statistic, add 20 long miles of Gulf Coast beaches and daytime temps averaging 72 degrees in January, and it is clear to see why the local population mushrooms in winter.
The west-facing St. Pete Beach is a perfect spot to watch the sunset. It also is the site of the elegant Mediterranean Revival–style Loews Don CeSar Hotel. Known as the “Pink Lady,” the hotel opened in 1928 as a getaway for the rich and infamous (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Al Capone once signed their names on the guest register.)
On the east side of the peninsula, 7 miles of landscaped parks grace the downtown waterfront. Here, visitors can stroll The Pier, a five-story shopping mall shaped like an upside-down pyramid. Shoppers can pick up resort wear and specialty items (think Pier-shaped cookie cutters), and then relax with a cocktail on a tropical-themed deck.
The Pier’s dining options include an outpost of Florida’s oldest restaurant, Columbia, where bay views complement the authentic Spanish and Cuban cuisine.
Downtown is the location of three fine-arts institutions. The star of this constellation is the Dalí Museum on 3rd Street South. Reopened in January 2011, the remarkable new structure has twice the original square footage. The traffic-stopping exterior of this St. Petersburg attraction bears a free-form geodesic bubble made of more than 1,000 triangular glass pieces. The 18-inch-thick walls are hurricane-proof to withstand Florida weather. Outside, tourists can explore a butterfly garden, a shady grotto and a bushy labyrinth.
Inside, the architectural centerpiece is a helical staircase that allows access to three floors of galleries. Together they display a career’s worth of work by eccentric surrealist Salvador Dalí: 96 oil paintings (six of which are masterworks) and sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs.
The Palladian-style Museum of Fine Arts displays a wider ranging collection. Some 4,500 years' worth of art is represented in more than 14,000 objects. Take them all in on a guided tour.
A few blocks north on Beach Drive, visitors can view exuberant works by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The Morean Arts Center sponsors the Chihuly Collection, which includes a permanent group of fantastical chandeliers and glass sculptures.
For those who prefer outdoor pursuits, St. Petersburg happily obliges with its public parks. To the south, Fort De Soto Park is spread over five interconnected keys, or islands, with a total of 3 miles of beaches. Take a walk along the park’s nature trails and explore the remains of a fort dating back to 1898.
At Weedon Island Preserve, located on the bay north of downtown, paddlers can kayak tranquil inlets, where they might spy great blue herons and roseate spoonbills.